Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Metcalf Explosion

My good friend Carl Samson had two paintings accepted into the Lexington Art Leagues show on the Nude. Carl, Clem Robins and I drove down to Lexington for the day. In it's 24th year, this is an international show that now sports a cool name due to sponsorship by an internet provider, Nude 2010. Carl's paintings were light years better than the rest of the work. So much so, that they really looked out of place.
The show had about 100 pieces I guess. Only seven or eight of them were worth looking at. The rest were either boring, badly executed or just plain offensive. The organizers even had half naked models walking around the event painted with body paint to add to the overall coolness. Really classed up the joint. I may seem odd, but it made me uncomfortable to look at paintings standing near a guy in his underwear.
It was held in a wonderful old Lexington mansion that looked like a castle. Plus it had an open bar, so I was happy- eventually after a few.
Me, Carl and Clem standing with a lovely Julien Dupr'e painting.

The highlight of the day was going to the Museum at the University of Kentucky before the opening. This museum has a small but impressive collection. A show of contemporary English painters were being installed, so some of the permanent collection was in storage- including some Willard Metcalf paintings.
Carl called ahead to make sure we could get a look at them. It was a wonderful experience that had a lot to do with the museums registrar, Barbara Lovejoy. She was very knowledgeable and helpful with all of our questions. She just kept dragging out more stuff for us to look at- including 3 of his sketchbooks. My head almost exploded from the experience. Metcalf is in my not so humble opinion, the greatest Landscape painter in American art history. If you don't know about him, then you had better start reading. There are some good articles about Metcalf on the Stapelton Kearns blog. The Spanierman Gallery is has produced some books on Metcalf and is working on a catalog raisonne' (that is French for Big Ass Catalog).

Barbara let me shoot photos so I will post some of them here.
WILLARD LEROY METCALF (American, 1858-1925) Giverny, 1887 Oil on canvas 26 x 32 1/8” Bequest of Addison M. Metcalf 1984.19.10

Clem brought a copy of the painting he had done from a reproduction. Despite being pretty faithful to the reproduction, his painting was the wrong key and color. The original looked to be a different painting. It was definite proof as to how off any reproduction of a painting can be, in almost every way. There is nothing quite like seeing the original. If you looked at the reproduction and the actually painting together, you would say they had different centers of interest. Looking at the original, the barn or house was a major part of the focal point. In the reproduction the trees that form the V in the center are the definite choice, the barn sort of blending in with the background.
So keep in mind you can't trust these photos either. Not to mention I had my camera on the wrong setting, so I did some photoshop adjustments to these.

A few details of the painting.
Above photo is a bit purple. This barn was painted with piles of paint.This corner was stunning. It was interesting to see how thoroughly he studied and carved out that line of the shadow on the ground. He designed the heck out of it.

Here is a later Metcalf done about a year before he died. It definitely seems as though it was painted in one session. Not much fussing around. Painted by a confident man, after years of working before nature, quickly and directly. It has a much higher key, than the earlier work.

A close up view shows how much paint was applied to the canvas. We were surprised to see such thick paint in the background snow areas. Normally you would try to keep texture down in areas meant to recede.

This is a painting I was surprised to see. It is a work done very early by Metcalf shortly after being a student. It was roughly 24" x 18".
This is a watercolor Metcalf painted of his wife. A real charming piece of work.
It was about 12 x 9.

Next are a bunch of shots three of his sketchbooks. They were small, pocket sized books, with some interesting little sketches in them. It included notes and even some grocery lists.
First are some wonderfully sensitive pen and ink tree studies.

A lot of these sketches seemed to be a list of paintings that were already done, maybe sketches of them preparing for a show. They were numbered and had specific sizes. Titles were given and sometimes crossed off and changed. It is pretty interesting to see what he considered to be the important elements of the composition. These little sketches are much like what I suggest students do in their sketchbooks before committing to paint.

Below he listed some paintings he had sold. Including Goose Girl for $300. (He did at least two goose girl paintings, but both are worth a little more than $300 now)He spent some time in New Mexico and Arizona in the early 1880's. These sketches are from Chihuahua, Mexico.
Please note, that is my hand touching the Metcalf sketchbook. I have yet to notice if any of the magic has worn off on me.
The above image was a lovely charcoal. Sorry about the blurry photo.

This final sketchbook only had two portraits of a young child and a landscape sketch.

There were folders on Metcalf with letters and photos. Some I had seen in books on Metcalf. There was not time to go through all of it, but there is a serious amount of information here.

Finally I thought I would end with a photo I took of Clem Robins. I told him I wanted to shoot a photo of him with a statue in a park in Lexington. As you can see, he got too close and weirded out the bronze statue. Can't take him anywhere.

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